Ras Michael / Sons of Negus

Spiritual Roots

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Building on the groundbreaking efforts of Count Ossie to bring the traditional African-derived Rastafarian drumming style known as nyahbinghi into a more accessible and commercial context, Ras Michael has experimented with grafting in all sorts of other elements, including touches of mainstream reggae, funk, electronica, gospel and even psychedelia. The results can often be somewhat exasperating to listen to, but there is no denying the powerful connection he makes when he gets it right, and at his best, Ras Michael produces trance music with roots deep in the planet's most basic rhythms. Spiritual Roots is an easygoing affair, stripped down to earthy basics, but with decidedly contemporary touches like electric wah wah guitar and funky organ riffs thrown in at critical junctions, making the whole set feel oddly ancient and current at the same time, which is undoubtedly exactly what Michael and producer Tommy Cowan (the former lead singer for roots trio the Jamaicans) intended. At times, like in the album's opener, a version of the gospel-blues classic "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," and in "Jah Jah Rainbow Sign," Michael approaches a kind of slowed-down Jamaican facsimile of U.S. Southern gospel, even pushing it into vaguely pop territory with the exuberant (for nyahbinghi, that is) "Some Sweet Day." The stately Jamaican traditional, "Key Man," practically a Rastafarian hymn, closes the album. Nyahbinghi music is generally fairly sonorous and low-key, but there is a faint brightness to everything here, making this one of the freshest sounding of Michael's releases, and the gospel touches deepen its spiritual aspirations.

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